A US physician from Kansas who allegedly operated a "pill mill" out of his Haysville clinic has been charged with illegally prescribing and causing the deaths of at least four patients.
A Topeka grand jury, in the Kansas state capital, returned a 34-count indictment Thursday morning against Dr. Stephen J. Schneider, 54, and his wife, nurse Linda K. Schneider, 49.
According to the indictment, 56 of Stephen Schneider's patients have died from accident accidental prescription drug overdoses in the last five years. However, only four deaths have been found to have been directly caused by drugs Schneider's clinic prescribed.
The 65-page indictment alleges that the doctor and his assistants wrote unlawful prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, muscle relaxers and other drugs. Drugs mentioned in the indictment included Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine and Oxycodone, news agency AP reports.
The indictment also states that Schneider was known as "Schneider the Writer," "the pill man" and "the candy man."
According to the indictment, Linda Schneider bragged when interviewing prospective employees that the clinic, with its large number of pain-management patients, wrote more narcotics prescriptions than any other medical clinic in the state.
The indictment also says that Schneider Medical Clinic operated seven days a week and was open for 11 hours daily. Patients were scheduled 10 minutes apart and the clinic billed more than $4.24 million to health benefit programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, the indictment says.
The indictment alleges that the clinic did not change its practices despite patients' deaths and that it ignored warning signs that patients were abusing, diverting or becoming addicted to the medications.
It is also alleged that the clinic submitted fraudulent claims to health care benefit programs for prescribing medications for illegitimate purposes and for laboratory services not provided.
The transactions involved between $50,000 and $130,000 that were moved among accounts, the indictment says.
The government is seeking forfeiture of those accounts as well as real estate, vehicles and boats owned by the Schneiders.
The couple will remain in jail because they are a flight risk, a federal magistrate ruled Friday. Judge Donald Bostwick said that the physician posed a danger to the community, because even if he was ordered to not practice medicine, there was no way the court could police that stipulation.
"I do not see conditions I can impose that would adequately protect the community," Bostwick said.
The court-appointed attorney for Schneider's wife, John Rapp, said at her later hearing that with her husband in jail, she could not prescribe medication and posed no danger.
"We are disappointed with the decision," Rapp said after the hearing. "We have to live with it."
Linda Schneider's sister, Pat Hatcher, told reporters after the hearing that five doctors in that clinic treat patients. Insurance companies often put Schneider's name on patient records, Hatcher said, adding that some of the patients named in the indictment were not even his patients.
"I don't think the doctor is guilty," she said. "I don't think the doctor would hurt a flea."